Sunday, January 31, 2010

Not cool

I just finished reading the mega bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love. As you may have noticed, I don't like reading mega-bestsellers, kind of the same way I refused to have a crush on the same red-headed 7th grader all the other girls had a crush on in Junior High. And yes, in Junior High you can decide who you have a crush on.

With EPL, though, I'd read about it when it first came out and before everyone went ga-ga over it and thought it sounded really cool. But then everyone else thought so too and I cooled off on it. Who wants to go out and be friends with the most popular girl in school?

But that was a couple of years ago and Elizabeth Gilbert just came out with another book picking up where she left off and my curiosity got the better of me.

The general gist of her tale is that she had a horrible divorce followed by a horrible affair that just about destroyed her. So she sets off on this Marco Polo-esq adventure going to Italy to eat, India to pray and Bali to learn how to put the two together (I know, I know, Bali?). The thing that is so cool about Elizabeth Gilbert is her amazing ability to meet people and make friends where ever she goes. I'm flat out in awe of that. She meets awesome people in Italy, makes friends in India, and pretty much picks up a new family in Bali. For anyone who's ever been shy, tongue-tied, lonely, and full of wishful thinking about how great it would be to have awesome friends all over the world, well, this lady is like some kind of guru.

But I tell you, it takes one heck of a silver tongue to turn a situation where you instigate a divorce pretty much because you changed your mind about being married to this person, rush off to have this hot and steamy affair while said divorce is happening, and then have the gall to say "woe, woe, woe is me and the pitiful situation I find myself in." Gilbert does just that and as a reader I don't hate her for it. Should this woman go into politics, she'd be unstoppable.

Overall, it was a good read. She's engaging and so well traveled she's got great tales to tell. But she does fall into ruts and starts ruminating on the same few pieces of cud she's already chewed through a few times. Read it to be an armchair traveler (I sooo want to go to Bali now!) and for some interesting thought on G-d. But don't go looking for your new best friend. Elizabeth Gilbert already has too many.

More later,


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Mandatory Reading

There are books we read for escape, books we read for mental stimulation, and there are books we read to be better people. Under this last category falls: America, the owner's manual by Senator (and former FL governor) Bob Graham.

The basic point of the book is that we Americans treat civics as a spectator sport. We sit back and watch our politicians enact inane laws, ignore abuses that should be curbed, and lead us with something less than the basic common sense we all hope for. When we have a problem, from something as small as parking issues, to as a large as drunk driving, most of us vent to our friends and family and then shrug it off as something we have to live with, like mosquitoes in the summer.

What Senator Graham does in his book is show how if you have a certain grievance how to figure out which level of government's management it falls under (local, state, Federal) and then takes you step by step on how to air your grievance before the right people and convince them it needs to change.

It was such an inspiring book to read. Immigrants have to take a citizenship test before they can become naturalized American citizens. The rest of us, fortunate to be born into American citizenship, should read this wonderful manual about our amazing, cumbersome, Byzantine government.

More later,


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Life List

It's funny how some books seem to stalk you.

I first bumped into Life List, a biography of Phoebe Snetsinger about six months ago. My local paper ran a review and when I read it I thought, "here's about book about bird watching, which I really don't know anything about, or care that much about, but it sounds really interesting." Which was about as far as it went. I didn't go seek it out or read more about it, or even really think about it again.

A few months later, the St. Pete Reading Festival featured the book's author, Olivia Gentile, as one of its speakers. I read her impressive biography (Harvard undergrad, Columbia MFA). Saw her beautiful author photo. And thought, wow, what an interesting story. And I didn't go.

And then, I'm not really sure how, but I heard about it AGAIN, and this time I found out she's pregnant and married to Andy Borowtiz, who has a really funny column that I follow, and I thought, why haven't I picked up her book already? So I did.

And it's fascinating, although to be honest, why in the world Olivia Gentile chose such an obscure figure to chronicle for her first book or spend so long doing it (7 years) is as compelling as Phoebe Snetsinger herself, who was the first person to see 8,000 species of birds (which is almost all the species in the world, and is very, very, very hard to do.) She got herself killed doing it. At least, I think that's what happens. There have been all sorts of crypic allusions to the way she died in 1997, that I feel fairly confident that birdwatching killed her. Birding got her raped, at any rate, by 5 thugs in New Guinea when she was 55 years old.

It's hard to mesh my view of bird watching with extreem danger and obsessive behavior, but that's a common misconception, apparently. The closer one is to the tropics, the birdier it gets, leading dedicated birders into some very sketchy countries and areas. Also, keeping a list of all the species one has seen seems to lend itself to stiff compition with fellow birders and with one's own number goals.

Reading the book has made me much more aware of the birds in my area. And living on the gulf coast of Florida, there are some amazing birds in my backyard, raptors, pink sponbills, herons and egrets.

That's what hooked Phoebe Snetsigner in the first place. A neighbor took her bird watching in St. Louis and showed her birds she'd never seen before. The fact that these amazing creatures had been in her backyard her whole life and she never noticed them stunned her and started her down a new path.

So what have we been blind to in our backyard?

More later,